Jeremy Straub, assistant computer science professor at North Dakota State University, displays a testing setup of a 3-D printer with his new patented imaging technology attached. Straub is a Mississippi State University alumnus who received a patent Dec. 19 for a technology that would detect and correct mistakes during the 3-D printing process. Photo by: Courtesy photo
December 27, 2017 10:59:04 AM
Spaghetti might sound good -- hearty, economical, eight servings per bag. When it comes to 3-D printing, though, the pasta dish is a different story.
"I don't know if you've ever seen a 3-D printer malfunction, but a lot of times it can produce something that looks an awful lot like a plate of spaghetti," said Jeremy Straub, assistant computer science professor at North Dakota State University.
Straub, who graduated with a master's degree in computer science from Mississippi State University in 2010, received a patent Dec. 19 for a new 3-D printing technology that would help detect and correct mistakes in printed objects.
Straub was the lead inventor on a three-man research team. His co-inventors are Benjamin Kading, a research assistant at the University of North Dakota, and Scott Kerlin, former computer science faculty member at UND.
Straub and his team created the plan for an imaging software that uses sensors in a 3-D printing machine to collect data throughout the printing process of an object. As imagery data is collected, it is compared to a design model of the expected outcome. If discrepancies exist between the object and the model at any stage of the printing, it automatically stops, and the patented 3-D technology assesses whether the 3-D printer can self-correct or whether human intervention is needed.
Kerlin, who has worked with Straub for almost four years, said part of his original research background is in software design.
"That has evolved over the years to more work with 3-D printing type materials, cybersecurity and education in computer science," he said.
Kerlin took a more behind-the-scenes role in the patented project by securing grants over the years and making sure the pair's research meets grant requirements and remains worthwhile.
He said the team began its entrepreneurial endeavors by considering what could be done in the 3-D marketplace, and the patented software grew from there.
"The original thing that got us thinking about this was we would occasionally try to run print jobs overnight, or over the weekend, or even just sometimes during the day left unattended in a different room, and they would mess up," Straub said. "We wouldn't know that this had happened until we went back and had a mess to clean up."
According to Straub, a 3-D printer works by making an object layer-by-layer. With 3-D plastic printers, for instance, plastic is melted and spit out one layer at a time. Each layer remains temporarily molten so it adheres to the layer below it.
"That creates an object that has structural stability and durability when it's done," he said.
Straub's patented technology allows a 3-D printer to catch mistakes at any layer of an object's creation. It could result in saved resources, as a printer would not continue to print a flawed object, and Straub stresses the importance of his invention being used for quality assurance.
"There are a variety of reasons why you would want quality assurance, and they range from parts that have safety implications like ... jet engines ... where if there is something that is deformed on that, it could cause the engine to not work," he said. "The other end of the spectrum is you might just have objects you want to look good cosmetically."
Straub hopes his technology increases the accessibility of 3-D printers, allowing the seemingly complex machines to be put in places they might not otherwise go, such as grocery or toy stores.
"They're not going to have clerks there that are going to be able to manually inspect the object by themselves," Straub said. "They're going to potentially need to rely on something like this technology to make sure that when the thing prints, they're not giving out an object that could be dangerous or cause some sort of problem."
Straub said it's difficult to predict an implementation timeline for his technology, but he's contacting marketing firms to get the ball rolling. Ideally, he added, a new line of 3-D printers will be built with his imaging technology already intact.
Straub filed his most recent version of the patent titled "Characterizing 3-D printed objects for 3-D printing" on Jan. 21, 2016. After months of waiting and constant correspondence with a patent lawyer, Straub's correction software earned patent number 9,846,427, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
"Throughout this process, of course, there is always this risk that there is actually something out there that is very similar or exactly the same as what you thought was a new invention," Straub said. "So to get all the way to the end and get the notice of allowance and then finally have the patent actually issued really validates the fact that it is truly a new and novel invention."
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